Barbara Siegel, 71, Teacher, Supporter of Israel


Siegel, a well-respected French teacher, inspired numerous students and frequently visited Israel on mission trips. 

Barbara Siegel, 71, a gifted teacher and mentor to many students in the Philadelphia School District as well as at Temple University, and a longtime supporter of Israel, died May 22.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she also earned her master’s in French, Siegel was a well-respected teach­er and Advanced Placement French instructor as part of the mentally gifted program run by George Washington High School, a position from which she retired in 2002.

After retirement, she turned her talents to mentoring student teachers in the School of Education at Temple University.

Her association with education extended to serving as vice president of the Girls High Alum­nae Association.

Siegel’s activities on behalf of the Jewish community and Israel were many, including missions she had gone on during the Soviet Jewry movement, meeting with refuseniks alongside her mentor, Professor Nora Levin of Gratz College.

A founding member of the Reconstructionist Congregation Or Hadash in Fort Washington, Segal was a frequent visitor to Israel. Indeed, the Jewish state was one of many common bonds she shared with her husband, Burt, former executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phila­delphia. In fact, JCRC itself was another such bond.

Barbara was a student of Levin’s, a prominent instructor in Holocaust-related subjects at Gratz College in 1976, when she got an internship at JCRC, recalls her husband. “In those days, JCRC’s offices were located on two floors; Barbara was doing her internship on one, and I was on the other.

“Suddenly I found myself spending more time on her floor,” says Siegel. “We started out as good friends.”

And it all evolved into meant-to-be life mates. “Barbara was disappointed when her internship ended and she didn’t get a job at JCRC; I, on the other hand, was relieved, because, otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to ask her out,” says Siegel.

He did; they had dinner, and, within a few months, were engaged, then married.

The couple were frequent flyers to Israel, an important source of happiness and meaning for them both. Indeed, they honeymooned there — a no-brainer as a choice for the two of them, recounts Siegel.

“In fact, whenever I used to lead missions to Israel, I would have the bus driver stop in front of this certain building and announce to the passengers, ‘Before you is the most important site you’re seeing today in Israel,’ ” he would say, pointing to the building.

And what site was that? “It was the hotel where Barbara and I honeymooned,” he told the passengers.

In addition to her husband, the former Barbara Gitlin is survived by a son, Joshua; two step-daughters, Leah Siegel Taylor and Sarah; a brother, Larry Gitlin; and a grandchild.

Donations in her memory may be sent to the Or Hadash Rabbi's Discretionary Fund, 190 Camp Hill Rd., Fort Washington, PA 19034; JCRC of Jewish Federation, Interfaith Missions to Israel, 2100 Arch St., Philadelphia PA 19103; or Girls High Alumni Fund, P.O. Box 845, Mount Laurel, N.J. 08054.


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